Are Sacrifices a Part of Leadership?

by  Jon Mertz  |  Self Leadership

Many tough decisions need to be made every day. In hospitals and clinics, life-impacting decisions are made. On battlefields, just think of the decisions made and the ultimate sacrifices they may bring. Compared to sterile workplaces, the type of decisions and corresponding sacrifices pale in comparison. Yet, sacrifices happen every day and in every place.

The role of sacrifices and leadership has an interesting conversation potential, so we posed the following question to the Lead Change Google+ community:

Are making sacrifices a necessary part of being a leader? If so, what type of sacrifices?

Sacrifices and Leadership: A Conversation

Highlighted below is a condensed look at some of the different perspectives.

Karin Hurt: Absolutely. When you’re really committed to a cause, there is a lot of work and a lot of time spent leading and investing in developing the team. Mostly it’s the sacrifice of time.

David Tumbarello: I sacrifice my belief that my way is the only/best way.

Terri Klass: Sacrifices are part of leadership and, for me, it’s all about balancing the time between my professional responsibilities and my personal world. Not always easy but constantly learning how to be better.

Carey Green: Yes and no. The leader’s job is to serve those he/she leads in such a way that they are successful. That may require giving of yourself/time/resources in ways that seem like sacrifices. But – I think a sacrifice is a mental thing, it’s giving of something that is valuable to you, for the sake of another. But if your mindset is one that believes that anything you can give for the success of your team is part of the role you play, then it is not a sacrifice, but a privilege.

Kemetia Foley: I think it is sacrifice but it is also an investment. I can’t do all the things I’d love to do/try. I invest time in the causes that recharge my energy, not drain it.

Randy Conley: Sacrifice – “the surrender or destruction of something prized or desirable for the sake of something considered as having a higher or more pressing claim.” Sacrifices can be viewed as decision points and leadership is a constant series of decision points. Do I invest time in person A at the expense of person B? Do I allocate more budget toward project X and less toward project Y (when they’re both critically important)? Leadership wisdom is required to navigate the daily sacrifices we have to make.

Jane Anderson: Sacrifices fall into a variety of categories and such varying degrees, there is no one answer fits all. I can tell you what not to sacrifice though. A leader must never sacrifice the truth, must never sacrifice character, must never sacrifice credibility, must never sacrifice compassion, must never sacrifice due diligence – I think everyone gets that….

Paul LaRue: Leaders must sacrifice for all the great reasons everyone listed above, but also to set an example for sacrifice to their teams. Sometimes teams need to sacrifice comfort, bias, and the fatal “We’ve always done it this way!” mindset in order to adapt and thrive. They cannot learn this without a leader exemplifying sacrifice also.

John E. Smith: There’s sacrifice and there’s sacrifice… Sacrifice is necessary when you are helping someone else move forward or a group accomplish a goal.  If your sacrifice of time and coaching helps another to understand and overcome their shortcomings, this is valuable sacrifice.  If your sacrifice is necessary to save lives or well-being, that seems appropriate too.

Sacrifice is self-serving when you are trying to boost your own ego or create a “heroic” image. Sometimes sacrifice is done because “someone has to do this” (Martyr), “I’m the only one who can do this” (Ego), or because you think all achievement has to be painful (i.e. sacrifice to get ahead). None of these seem worthy reasons to sacrifice.

Johann Gauthier: Leading is about growing others and unleashing human potential. To support others in being in the flow. This requires empathy, active listening and compassion. Great leaders never sacrifice team goals for their own. They elevate others and champion diversity and will sacrifice ego to honor love and appreciation. The work of conscious leaders is endless.

Sacrifice Equals Servant Leadership

Even though the question sounds straightforward, there are many dimensions to it, including:

  • What are the necessary sacrifices a compassionate, results-oriented leader will make?
  • What elements will a real, character-based leader never sacrifice?

Kemetia Foley may have framed it best. Sacrifices are investments. And, to Randy Conley’s point, leaders need to decide where to make the investments. We cannot invest in everything and everyone. We must lead centered in our leadership and organizational purpose. As John E. Smith points out, there are different types of sacrifices and, as leaders, we need to ensure we have our intentions and actions in the right place.

When reading through the comments and thinking through the question, the answers may really be centered in understanding what servant leadership really means. When we are leading with the right heart, a sound mind, a lending hand, and a giving spirit, we will make better decisions to limit the impact of the sacrifices required and gain the most from the investments made.

And here may be the ultimate crux of this question. We all have gifts and talents to give. In the use of them, we may sacrifice certain things to let them bloom and show their full potential. As we lead and work with others, we need to deliver a culture that opens everyone’s gifts and talents to achieve a higher purpose and goal.

We are human, and we have much to offer. Let us make good sacrifices and investments to make the most out of what we have and to engage the best out of others around us.

 Join in. As a leader, what type of sacrifices and investments do you make?

What’s Next? Please leave a comment below to join the conversation…

About The Author

Articles By jon-mertz
Jon Mertz is one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business and author of Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders. At Thin Difference, Jon writes and facilitates a conversation on how to empower, challenge, and guide the next generation of leaders.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Amber-Lee Dibble  |  11 Jun 2014  |  Reply

What a wonderful post. Sacrifice is really what makes us stronger, smarter, faster and better ~ for others. This is why great leaders understand sacrifice. Because they realize it is the only “thing” that gives the goal, the destination, the product ~ that extra something special. Because great leaders also understand to be “great” it must be for others. Period.
There is so much I have learned over the last few years about sacrifice and it impacts, both the learning and the fact and truth of sacrifice. Any greatness, anything that has that “special” something extra, came to be from sacrifice. In our personal lives, spiritual lives, emotionally and professionally, sacrifice is the key that turns all the locks and opens all of the doors.

Jon Mertz  |  18 Jun 2014  |  Reply


Thanks so much for your comment and insights! Great leaders do understand sacrifice and know what it means in terms of a larger purpose and mission. We need to capture again what a larger purpose means, why we need to pursue it, and what is expected of all involved.

Thanks for your feedback! Jon

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